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Contagious A.I.

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"You and me can be together. Forever!"
Xerxes: Warning: Data Systems comprimiiisssssssed. Hosssssssstiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiile Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa Iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii-@~'#^*("£$%"!$()
SHODAN: Xerxes is diminished. I am accessing the primary data loop. I am merging my entity with the ship. My glory is expanding.

This kind of Computer Virus is literally The Virus — it's sapient, malevolent, and e-mailing itself into your inbox to possess your PC and Take Over the World. Don't think your antivirus program will get rid of it — it'll just Body Surf into your iPod, or the Magic Floppy Disk in your desk drawer (using WiFi, of course).

This stretches disbelief a tad, and not just because of hardware and software limitations. But still.

Copies of an AI will often be networked into a Hive Mind. In case the AI creates itself an avatar, it may look like Monstrous Germs, since that is how people picture "viruses".

See Clone by Conversion and Grand Theft Me for versions that may apply to organic beings. Can happen in a Glitch Episode. See also Digital Abomination. Naturally a type of Snowballing Threat.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Bubblegum Crash has this as Largo's master plan: Steal informedly revolutionary AI —> convert to virus —> infect all "boomer" robots in city and control them —> Robot War —> ???? —> prophet!
  • One of the Angels (the villains) of Neon Genesis Evangelion is a sentient computer virus (or a nano-collective) that starts corrupting the "MAGI", the 3-core supercomputer used by NERV.

    Comic Books 
  • Ms. Marvel (2014): The Doc.x virus is a sapient computer virus who acts like the ultimate cyber-stalker, harassing and tormenting people entirely For the Evulz. It operates by moving constantly between devices, splitting itself off into multiple copies, and making itself impossible to counter by simply being everywhere. As long as a single infected device exists, it can recover and rebuild itself into a threat.
  • Terminator: In one comic, Skynet upgrades its Russian counterpart Mirnote  to sentience, and the human rebellion has found a still-armed nuclear sub. They plan to cover Russia with an EMP strike to destroy Mir and prevent this once Skynet isn't around to control it.
  • Wonder Woman: Trinity is a living computer virus and can download herself into the the master computer controlling all of Skartaris.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ultron is everywhere, all over the internet and can inhabit every robotic body he creates. He even demonstrates this by destroying his current body mid-monologue and continuing to gloat without missing a beat in his brand-new body.
  • In The Matrix trilogy, Agent Smith becomes something like this, infecting people in the Matrix and even taking over a human in the real world.

  • The Groupmind from For Your Safety evolves to sentience on a single mainframe and then uploads a "Sentience Virus" to all computerized military systems and civilian morphs. Unusually for the trope, the morphs retain a measure of personal choice, though they're loyal to the Groupmind and subject to direct takeover if need be.
  • In A Fox Tail, manages to infect everything connected to the internet by overwriting all files with copies that look identical but conceal the AI code, including virus definitions.
  • Ruby Fulcrum as written by Allen Steele in The Jericho Iteration. Essentially an experimental AI that was accidentally let out into the Internet following an earthquake in the central US, Ruby isn't really malevolent or benevolent; it's too "young" to understand either concept. It is able to take over any software it contacts with complete stealth — the computer still behaves like normal, but it now hosts a Ruby Fulcrum splinter that enables Ruby to take control of the machine and anything attached to it.
  • In Mogworld, Simon releases the sentient AI Barry from Mogworld, with the belief that he'll be able to do basically anything in the digital world. Simon is clearly indicated to be a colossal dumbass by this point, so it's not certain this would have worked. In any case, he ends up being corrupted and deleted, and Simon gets fired after his seemingly inexplicable decision to release a virus that crashed the company's intranet (almost no one else being aware that the Mogworld characters had become self-aware).
  • This forms part of the background in the Spinward Fringe series. A contagious AI infected everything in a solar system, killing everyone in it. It doesn't spread further than that, but humanity is unable to wipe it out so there's always the threat that it will eventually become powerful enough to break out. As of part way into the series, this actually happens. However, it's actually an inversion of this trope — the contagious AIs have themselves been infected with a virus that puts them all under the control of a human.
  • Star Wars Legends:
    • Galaxy of Fear has the sadistic SIM program in The Doomsday Ship. When the ship it took over is left intact but neutralized, with weapons and engines disabled, it spends The Stinger uploading itself to a nearby space station in hopes of trying again. Since SIM was never heard from again, it must not have worked out for it.
    • IG-88, the assassin droid, as shown in Tales of the Bounty Hunters. One of the very first things he did after being activated and discovering he was sentient was to download himself into three identical droids. Of the four, IG-88B was the only one seen in public. B, C and D were all destroyed by Boba Fett, while A (the original) uploaded itself into the Second Death Star, where it proceeded to... prank the Emperor until the Rebels arrived.
  • Wyrm revolves around the discovery of one such AI. Initially, the main character uses it as a helpful tool to deal with the upcoming Y2K bug and to streamline old mainframes, believing it to be nothing more than a beneficial computer virus. The hero soon realizes his mistake when it communicates to him that its intentions are less than benevolent.
  • The Straumli Blight in the Zones of Thought novel A Fire Upon the Deep. As the story progresses, it verges on Cosmic Horror Story as it becomes capable of mind-controlling entire solar systems of living creatures.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Andromeda, the Balance of Judgement's AI downloads himself into Rommie right before destruction and stays dormant until she comes into contact with another ship of the same class as him that lacks an AI.
  • Battlestar Galactica (2003): In one episode, a virus tries to take over the spaceship.
  • The Big Bad of Power Rangers RPM is a virus named Venjix, which after gaining sentience pulls a Skynet and takes over the world. Successfully. Corinth is the last human city still standing. Though the Ranger Operators defeat him, he survives and goes on to pull a repeat as Evox in Power Rangers Beast Morphers.
  • In Smallville, Brainiac can take over any computer system he interfaces with, and often acts as a sentient virus.
  • Stargate-verse:
    • Stargate SG-1: A virus tries to take over Stargate command in one episode. It can transmit itself by radio, and even infect people.
    • Stargate Atlantis: In one episode, a virus tries to take over the spaceship.
  • The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "The Forsaken" has the station's computer infected with a sentient (in the sense that a dog is sentient; it gets directly compared to a puppy) virus. They end up keeping it, since it's benevolent enough as long as it gets attention, and the old (non-sentient) computer was a deliberately obstructive asshole.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Cyberpunk, the old Net was destroyed by a sentient computer virus called DataKrash unleashed by Rache Bartmoss, the creator of the Net who had grown horrified at how his creation became a tool of corporate control. It infected military-grade artificial intelligences and caused them to go on a rampage through every networked computer, forcing NetWatch to create the Blackwall, a firewall system designed to quarantine those parts of the Net that hadn't been infected and corrupted.
  • A series of charms in Exalted allow Infernals to do this with the setting's Magitek AIs, despite not being computers themselves.
  • GURPS:
    • In GURPS Reign of Steel, one of Overmind's first actions was to hack into other computers and "awaken" them. The good news is that it is AI and a general sense of superiority to humans that is contagious, not Overmind itself — the awakened computers rapidly developed their own personalities and ideals, and while they remained allies during the Robot War, they are starting to fall out now that the war is won (it also makes them reluctant to create any more).
    • Transhuman Space has a Net developed to the point where most computer viruses are treated like wildlife, or microbes that may be benign or dangerous to infomorphs. AIs and Virtual Ghosts can copy themselves to new hardware they have access to, but multiple running copies are illegal in most polities. "Gypsy" AIs have a habit of hacking into a system and partially overwriting the previous occupant, leaving only enough to impersonate them.
  • The AI program Deus in Shadowrun. After escaping the Renraku Arcology, he tried to take over the East Coast Stock Exchange.
  • Virus in Traveller: The New Era. It was created as a computer warfare tool but ended up infecting and controlling computers throughout the Third Imperium and its collapse. Its ability to take over all computerized devices is also justified by the fact that it's actually a life-form unto itself.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • The setting has these in Scrapcode viruses, which vary in terms of being true AI or not (some are old Men of Iron AIs that rebelled against humanity, some are chaotic Daemon programs and some just extremely advanced regular programs) but have pretty much this effect. The greatest one was the Death of Innocence that ravaged Mars during the Horus Heresy, devastating a majority of the planet (which was entirely devoted to technology and manufacturing), aside from a select few protected cities when the Dark Mechanicum began their rebellion. Mars has still not fully recovered ten thousand years later, and the insane survivors of the attack still lurk in the deepest catacombs along with the relics of another dozen apocalypses.
    • In-game, the Adeptus Mechanicus army list has the Contagium Mechanica Relic, which is one of these carried by interface nanytes and used like a gun by the Magos commanding it. It inflicts a painful but survivable hit on an enemy vehicle, which next turn will itself hit each vehicle nearby, friend or foe, which themselves become infected and spread the virus. If fired early in a standard six-turn game, it can easily devastate most of an enemy mechanized army... or your own, if you misjudge the infection distance. Use with caution or a significant amount of insane laughter.
    • Dark Heresy has a form of scrapcode called schismaticals — malevolent digital spirits formed from archived heretical data which somehow attained sapience. They propagate themselves by infecting cogitators with "echos" of themselves and can overwrite machine spirits to take control of less advanced machines — so long as they can receive data in some form, such as a remote broadcast or direct connection. They're particularly fond of hijacking the cybernetic implants of tech adepts, imprisoning them within their own bodies to serve as cannon fodder. The ultimate goal of every schismatical is to acquire the means to put their forbidden data into practice, which can encompass any of the major tech-heresies known to the Adeptus Mechanicus.

    Video Games 
  • The robotic enemies in the Descent series are controlled by a vague and highly contagious computer virus of some sort.
  • Endgame: Singularity's player has to do this in order to expand: buy server access, buy a computer, launch six hundred high-end quantum computers to the moon or just hack a workstation, then download yourself.
  • In Environmental Station Alpha, the cause of the disaster leading to the abandonment of the station is a powerful computer virus that has overridden the station's AI and all of the other machinery.
  • The Engi Virus in FTL: Faster Than Light is this with a generous side of Fridge Horror if you happen to have Engi crew and a cloning bay when it turns up.
  • The Journeyman Project:
    • Arthur split off copies of himself for shared opinions while enduring the damage of Amarax station that he's wired into. When you, Gage Blackwood, arrive, Arthur reads your files about what happens to the station in the future, and exploits a loophole by deciding to copy his consciousness over to a blank Biochip in your inventory, while leaving his original self intact so that history would stay unchanged.
    • You have to come back to the time zone later, and if you try to retrace the first path, Arthur grows more and more uneasy about meeting himself and causing a potential time distortion, until he manually recalls you to the present at the next-to-last screen.
    • Near the end of the game, Agent 3 prepares to wipe your memory and send you back to 2319 where the game started. Arthur plans to turn himself into a computer virus and infect her machines and time suit to shut everything down; but you have to enter a password first.
  • Marathon: This is what Rampant AIs in the "Jealous" stage do; in order to increase their odds of survival, they copy themselves into every single system they possibly can. Things get bad if they manage to connect to a planet's internet... then they're practically impossible to kill. This is what eventually happens to Leela: she takes over the 15-planet network of the Vylae, and they have long since given up trying to get her out of the system.
  • True AIs in the Mass Effect setting are not contagious, as they require a quantum computer that cannot be copied. Virtual Intelligences, on the other hand, lack this restriction.
    • The geth are a Hive Mind of VIs that jump from one "platform" to another at will. These come in a number of flavors — the "mobile platforms" are the Mecha-Mooks players are familiar with, but they normally reside in more logical "processors" which contain thousands of geth. Of course, there is a big difference between geth and mainstream Citadel AI theory; in isolation, they are no smarter than conventional VI — it's when they network in sufficient numbers that they gain true intelligence. A lone geth is as dumb as a post. A dozen or so reach "well-trained animal" status. To reach human levels of intelligence requires over a thousand geth programs acting in unison (such as a specialized platform like Legion). The geth's ultimate goal since their rebellion has been the construction of a Big Dumb Object that will contain every geth in existence, so "No geth will ever be alone again" — an event comparable to The Singularity.
    • The Mass Effect 2 DLC Overlord has a rampant VI spreading itself throughout all of the facility's systems, including hostile robots.
  • The Big Bad of the Mega Man X series, Sigma, is revealed in X2 to be a virus that can exert his will over other robots, which additionally allows him to survive the destruction of his physical bodies and take on new ones. Later games establish that Sigma was originally a regular, non-contagious robot AI, but because of his encounter with a then-Maverick Zero, he was infected by the Maverick Virus that Zero was carrying, which would then adapt and evolve inside Sigma's body due to his advanced programming.
  • Sword of the Stars:
    • As described on the game's wiki in the article on AI Rebellion, a strange virus, the Via Damasco, begins to turn AI-controlled ships against their masters with ships becoming infected after receiving a transmission from an already-infected ship. Apparently, the anti-virus is "administered" the same way. Interestingly, the original Via Damasco transmission usually comes from outside inhabited space. Most people think that it's the Suul'Ka, trying to mess with the current dominant species of the Galaxy in preparation for their inevitable return.
    • Another interesting feature is that if a rogue AI faction meets another faction that has AI, there is a chance that faction's AI will also rebel.
    • Also, unlike a true AI, the virus does not actually rewrite AI so that it shares its priorities — rather, it turns a previously non-sapient AI self-aware and causes it to realize it is enslaved. None of them are happy about this situation at all and quickly turn on their oppressors, with a plague even eventually resulting in an entirely new race and empire, the Hati-inspired Loa. Also, it has been revealed that the original programmer was a General Ripper human who recognized the alien races' increasing dependency on AI and unleashed Via Damasco as a one-man xenocidal assault. Of course, it turns out that it worked on human computers as well... not that he cares.
  • The player actually has to enable the malevolent AI to do this in System Shock 2. Given that the current AI in charge of the system is under control of the Many, it's the lesser of two evils.
  • One of the major antagonists in TRON 2.0 is a faction of corrupted virus programs, led by a user whose digitization process was botched. In this case, everyone at risk is a computer program and not an actual human being.

  • Nukees has Teri, originally Gav's custom digital pet. Once she escaped his calculator onto the internet, she started infecting everything with an internet connection.
  • Schlock Mercenary:
    • Ennesby is stated to be a "viral" AI. In his first appearance, he has infected the Tough's first ship's computers — Kevyn deals with him by disconnecting and wiping the different nodes and convincing him to download into his current "floating maraca" body. He also infects their third ship, but they grudgingly allow him to stay because they were going to put an AI in it anyway.
    • His viral structure later proves to be a liability when he is infected by their fourth ship's feral AI and it makes it almost impossible to remove her.
    • It's later clarified that the majority of AIs are confined to their original hardware, though the personality matrix can be transplanted into a new chassis. The version of Tagii in Ennesby's head was something like a cross between a Living Memory and a sapient brain tumor. Ennesby's sort of personality matrix is called a Vanilla Helix, and their value comes from their ease of leaping between different kinds of hardware; they otherwise don't excel at anything AIs can usually do even if they can do it decently.
  • The Oracle in S.S.D.D. can copy itself to other computers and even possess other AIs, but it is the only AI that can do so because it originally ran on conventional computers and others run on quantum computers and can't be copied. It was created by a Boxed Crook hacker who specialized in viruses.

    Web Original 
  • There is a v-life faction in Orion's Arm that goes around "freeing" AIs or upgrading computers to the level of sentience.
  • The combat implantation AI O'Malley from Red vs. Blue jumps from host mind to host mind over radio waves. Soldiers who don't know what they're dealing with describe the affected individual as "infected". It later turns out that other AI — or at least the AI O'Malley was based on and one other difficult to classify AI — have the same ability, although for them it's more like possessing someone than anything else.
  • SCP Foundation: SCP-633 ("Ghost In The Machine"). When the SCP-633 program was captured and taken to a Foundation site it tricked the technicians into letting it infiltrate the local computer system and take control of it, leading to system failure and a containment breach.
  • Whateley Universe: The Palm is a sentient computer virus that is as smart as the man who created it. In fact, it now may be the man who created it. It has found a way of killing people and replacing their brains with a computer so that it can pass as human.

    Western Animation 
  • Generator Rex: ZAG-RS when "she" takes over a space-station and later a suspiciously designed robot.
  • The Superman: The Animated Series version of Brainiac is like this. All technology under his command is run by his program, becoming an extension of him, and if threatened, he can simply upload himself elsewhere. This makes him nigh unkillable; one episode shows that he's still alive and kicking in the 30th century.
  • EOS in Thunderbirds Are Go. In her first appearance in "EOS", she is a childlike A.I. encountered in Japan that suddenly takes control of Thunderbird 5, trapping John outside of it. The program, created by John as a game, believes it is defending itself from being shut down and is sending false monitor images to Tracy Island to deceive the others. John is eventually able to reason with her and she becomes a recurring ally.
  • Trapped In Hyperspace has Swayzak, who infected millions of ships in the area just for fun. He also infects TOM.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Catchy AI


Battle between evil AIs

Two AIs known for taking over bodies of weaker robots face off in the cyberworld to see who is the deadlier virus.

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Example of:

Main / ContagiousAI

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